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Upton Magna farm picture stirs Eric's memories of family roots

By Toby Neal | Features | Published:

This picture of a man examining lines of beet at John Muir's Grange Farm at Upton Magna in May 1964 has yielded a whole crop of memories, thanks to 92-year-old Eric T. Jones of Shrewsbury.

Is this Tom Morgan, who used the pen name John Muir?

We used the photo in Pictures From The Past and Mr Jones has emailed in to tell us that John Muir was the pen name of Thomas Christopher Morgan.

"Tom wrote a weekly column on farming in the Wellington Journal and other publications for many years using the pen name John Muir," Mr Jones said, who does not know why he chose the John Muir pen name.

"He and his wife Agnes Margaret were renowned in the archery world. I cannot be sure that the picture is of Tom, but the features suggest to me that it is.

"He died in 2004 in Clun."

Born on the farm

Mr Jones, of Kingston Drive, who was born in December 1926, said: "Tom was born at Preston Farm, Preston on Severn. He was the son of John Christopher Morgan – known to most as JC – and his wife Maggie.

"In 1932/33 John Morgan took over The Grange Farm at Upton Magna. The previous owner was Richard Minton, who moved to The Forge Farm.

"Tom assisted his father in the running of the two farms and when his father died in 1959 he took on sole responsibility.

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"I knew Tom Morgan and the family in my young days."

The old village school at Upton Magna.

After marriage in 1926 Eric's dad Ted Jones got the job of head waggoner at Preston Farm.

"It was a responsible position in those days where there was no mechanisation. Everything depended on the wellbeing of about eight Shires.

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"Preston Farm is at the top end of Preston Lane on a corner of a T-junction . On the opposite corner there was a smallholding. The house was largish and mum and dad had rooms there. It was in that dwelling that I was born in December 1926.

"Apparently when I was just a few weeks old we moved a little way down the lane into No. 1 Canal cottages, one of two cottages which sat very near to the Preston end of the Berwick canal tunnel.

"Tom Morgan was 12 years older than me but I remember him when I was five or six years old, lording it over my pal Bert Rogers and me. Well, apart from being much older his dad employed our two fathers."

Modernisation

When JC took over The Grange Farm Tom was 18 and it may well have been that this farm was taken on with Tom's future in mind.

"But for now it was JC in charge and he appointed my father as bailiff. We moved into the farmhouse, or at least part of it. It was rent-free in return for my father's work and mother's responsibility in caring for the remainder of the house."

Mr Jones said a previous owner at the farmhouse, which still stands, had done some groundbreaking modernisation.

"A windmill was installed on the Criftin bank near to an ever-flowing spring. The water was collected, piped and delivered to a reserve tank at the farm, so there was running water available in the farmhouse and in the farm buildings.

"In addition to that the farm buildings and the house were wired for electric lighting. There was no mains electricity in Upton Magna so the power was provided by a diesel oil engine driving a large generator to a massive bank of batteries. I am sure there were no other farms in the area which had these facilities.

"Perhaps the biggest bonus for me was that previously I had walked two miles to Upton Magna School. I could now get there in about two minutes.

"We were in a good place. Dad was good at, and happy with, his work and mother made friends in the village and was content with her lot.

Tragedy

"On March 23, 1934, tragedy struck. My dad was killed while riding his motorcycle and being in collision with a lorry. He was returning from visiting his mother at Nesscliffe when the accident occurred at Emstrey.

Tragedy – Eric Jones' father was killed in a road accident in 1934.

"He was 30 years old. Obviously this event created many problems. However, mother and I were allowed to stay in the house but she was required to take in a lodger who had been employed to replace my deceased father and continue her previous duties in caring for the other parts of the house.

"Of course I did not realise at the time, but the presence of a young man where my mother was alone in the house would, and did, get the tongues wagging. The man's name was Jack Claybrook.

"He was a fine man and soon earned the respect of the villagers. It all went well for a couple of years with one exception and that was Tom Morgan. He was 20 years old when my father died and he took the opportunity to gain more authority at The Grange. When Jack Claybrook came difficulties arose because he found himself working for two bosses. I suspect that JC was a bit old fashioned and his son Tom was more forward-looking. For whatever reason Jack Claybrook and Tom Morgan did not get on well.

"In 1936 mother was ill and was in hospital for some months and I was sent to grandparents at Ruyton .

"In mid-1936 Jack Claybrook had had enough and returned to his father's home and worked for E W James at Donnington Farm where his dad also worked

"When mother was better she decided to go to Donnington to keep house for Jack and his dad. In 1937 Jack and my mother were married. But that is another story.

"Tom now assumed complete control at The Grange but he continued to live with his parents at Preston. The 1939 register shows him there. He was an air raid warden. In that register there is no one at The Grange Farm House.

"JC died in 1959 and Tom continued farming. He showed himself to be a progressive farmer in his farming columns."

Toby Neal

By Toby Neal
Feature Writer

A journalist in Shropshire for 40 years, mainly writes features and columns, especially about aspects of Shropshire history. Lives in Telford and is based at the Ketley headquarters.

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